Trump's lawyers argue 'democracy' in response to 'porn star payoff' allegations. What you missed on Day 5 of his trial.


More than a year after securing an indictment, New York prosecutors for the first time on Monday laid out their case against Donald Trump in a courtroom, weaving a story they say will prove that the former president, along with his “fixer” and a tabloid publisher, conspired to cover up hush money payments.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy. Trump orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election,” said Matthew Colangelo, a lawyer with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office. “Then he covered up that criminal scheme by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again.”

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the end of the day on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (Angela Weiss / Pool via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the end of the day on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (Angela Weiss / Pool via Getty Images)

The prosecution detailed allegations of a sensational tabloid scheme to “catch and kill” stories that could prove damaging to Trump, a plan, the DA’s office said, that was elicited with Trump’s blessing and that he was directly implicated in.

“You’ll hear defendant’s own voice on a tape,” Colangelo said.

Here’s what else you missed on the fifth day of the trial:

The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape emerges in trial

Prosecutors have argued that when the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced during the 2016 campaign, it triggered the worry that led Trump and his allies to try to keep Stormy Daniels quiet, setting off the hush money payments.

Judge Juan Merchan has said that prosecutors can’t play the tape for jurors, but that government lawyers could read from the transcript. And before opening statements were over, prosecutors did just that.

Colangelo quoted the tape to the jury, including Trump’s words that, “I just start kissing them … when you’re a star, they let you do anything.”

Assistand Districk Attorney Matthew Colangelo, right, speaks as former President Donald Trump with his attorney Todd Blanche looks on Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York.  Judge Juan Merchan presiding.  (Jane Rosenberg / Reuters)

Assistand Districk Attorney Matthew Colangelo, right, speaks as former President Donald Trump with his attorney Todd Blanche looks on Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Judge Juan Merchan presiding. (Jane Rosenberg / Reuters)

Colangelo detailed for the jury how allies of Trump began to withdraw their endorsements. “The impact of that video on the campaign was immediate and explosive,” he said.

At the defense table, Trump sat slumped.

Trump faces a full jury

After four days of jury selection, for the first time on Monday morning, Trump sat with a full panel of jurors watching him — 12 jurors and six alternates.

Merchan told jurors that they must guard carefully against outside bias as they listen to the evidence in the case. While jurors may tell their employers that they are among the small group of New Yorkers who will judge Trump, they must not talk about it. Instead, as they listen to the evidence and render a verdict, they must avoid all news related to the case and not research the details or anyone involved.

“Our laws do not permit jurors to speak to anyone else about the case,” Merchan said. “Only you have been found to be fair.”

The day opened with one juror concerned about media attention from the trial, echoing the challenge last week of seating a jury in a densely populated city where Trump has loomed large for decades, and whose celebrity long predated his insurgent 2016 presidential campaign.

The jurors are presiding over a historic case, but none can escape the workaday nature of a trial made up of ordinary Manhattanites, with their own obligations. On Monday the trial adjourned earlier than expected to allow a juror with toothache to attend an emergency dental appointment.

A decision on possible Trump cross-examination

Trump slumped in his chair slightly with his eyes closed as Merchan read his ruling on allowing prosecutors to draw facts from prior cases should the former president testify.

After hearing six different proceedings involving 13 different determinations brought by the prosecution, Merchan said he had “greatly curtailed” the prosecution’s ability to elicit evidence, including ruling out two full prior cases. But he warned Trump: “This Sandoval ruling is a shield and not a sword.”

Trump appeared disinterested.

Prosecution opens by alleging that Trump tried to ‘cook the books’

Before a rapt jury, the prosecution detailed the explosive allegations against Trump, including saying it will show that the former president discussed the importance of paying cash.

Trump worked with attorney Michael Cohen, who will testify, to “cook the books” in order to bury a story potentially devastating to his campaign and on the “porn star payoff” that made it go away, the prosecution alleged.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple,” Colangelo said, explaining that the Trump Organization could not cut Cohen a check with the memo: “Reimbursement for porn star payoff.”

He promised that jurors would see evidence of how concerned Trump’s campaign was by the story of an alleged affair between Trump and Daniels.

He also revealed that a source for a story that the National Enquirer had suppressed texted its publisher on election night: “What have we done?”

That publisher, David Pecker, began testifying on Monday and said that Trump met with him after the election to thank him for being the campaign’s “eyes and ears,” scooping up information that could prove harmful to Trump and reporting it back to Cohen.

When Pecker walked into the courtroom, Trump craned his neck, fixing his eyes on the publisher. He took notes with attorney Todd Blanche as Pecker explained that his publications practiced “checkbook journalism,” doling out thousands of dollars in exchange for stories.

Trump’s defense: Poke holes

Blanche didn’t waste time trying to tell a story like the prosecutors — instead, he went straight to trying to tear that story apart.

“The story you just heard, you will learn, is not true,” Blanche said.

Defending Trump, Blanche attacked the evidence as nearly a decade old, part of an effort to poke holes in the allegations against Trump.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy,” Blanche argued in the defense’s opening statements, calling the use of nondisclosure agreements “perfectly legal.”

Daniels, he said, had tried to “extort” money from Trump — a point that drew an objection from prosecutors — and Cohen, now a disgruntled former employee, was waging a vendetta against his client.

“You will learn, ladies and gentlemen, that Michael Cohen has pled guilty to lying under oath,” Blanche said.

Blanche had painted a picture of the “larger than life” former president, telling jurors how “he’s also a husband, a man, a father.”

“A man just like me,” he said, as Trump watched his defense attorney intently.

As the full panel of jurors faced Trump for the first time on Monday morning, Merchan pointedly emphasized how the burden of proof in the case “never shifts” to the defendant. The prosecution must make its case “beyond reasonable doubt, not beyond all possible doubt,” he said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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